I remember the first time I experienced unemployment. I was in my early 30s and had been slowly, but surely, moving up the ladder of a company I had joined right out of college. Then, a recession came along and my company had to cut 40% of its workforce. Despite my stellar performance reviews and the various successful projects I had worked on (and in some cases, led), I was suddenly out of a job. That was in 1988.
The next time I found myself unemployed was after a company merger. I was in my late 40s and had spent an incredibly stressful 18 months leading a merger and integration team to form the new company. But six months after the merger, I found that I absolutely hated my new company, and my new role. I elected to take a voluntary separation package and leave the company on my own terms. That was in 2006.
The difference between the two unemployment experiences was how I reacted to them. The first time, I was angry and embarrassed, and a bit resentful of the others who had managed to retain their jobs. I didn’t want to tell family and friends what had happened. And I was desperate to find a new job as soon as possible.
Lucky for me, an opportunity arose, and I jumped at it. Luckier still, it was in a completely different field and set me on the path for what has become a very successful three decades in corporate communications.
But the second time was even more important, because it helped me understand the importance of taking time to breathe, to detox, to rebalance myself before trying to find my next opportunity. So I took six months off (I called it “The Summer of Susan”) and traveled, took classes, started gardening, etc. By January, I was ready to hit the pavement again and start the next phase of my career.
There are millions of people who have found themselves out of work since March – not because they were not performing their jobs or because of a merger, but because of the pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown.
Whether it’s senior leaders from Edelman whose jobs were eliminated due to companywide cutbacks, or seasoned PR consultants like me, unemployment is a reality for a significant number of people in our profession. For many of my peers in their 50s and 60s, this is the first time they have not worked since leaving college and may find themselves at loose ends.
The good news is, in this time in history, there is no stigma attached to being unemployed. The bad news is that it will take time for the economy to recover.
That’s why it is so important to take this time to relax and breathe. Take up a new hobby, schedule Zoom check-ins with friends and family members, do a two-day fast/cleanse, read those books you’ve been putting off for months – even years. Chances are, you have been operating at 200% capacity for the past several years and the human body can only take so much for so long.
Then, start to think about what comes next for you. Are you interested in continuing with your career? Do you want to change careers entirely? Is this perhaps the time to start thinking about scaling back in preparation for retirement?
Look at this time as a series of opportunities and take full advantage of them. You may not realize it, but you have been given a gift, the gift of time. Don’t squander it.
About the Author
Susan C. Rink is president and owner of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC, which helps clients talk to and listen to employees during times of change. Her clients range from global technology, retail, manufacturing, and hospitality companies to professional associations and “think tanks.” She is also a founding partner of Triple Play Consulting, which works with growing companies interested in building and sustaining a positive workplace culture.
Prior to forming Rink Strategic Communications in 2007, Susan spent more than two decades in employee communication leadership positions with Nextel Communications and Marriott International. A long-time resident of the Washington, DC, area, and former chair of PRSA-NCC’s Independent PR Alliance, Susan recently relocated to South Carolina where she is learning to drive faster, speak slower and cook really good grits.